Rethink the word, “disposable.” Think “reusable,” instead.
Think about the long-term life of “disposable” items. Where are they being disposed to? What will come of them? Much of what we purchase ends up in landfills, where it may contaminate our ground water and take years to decompose. When you avoid purchasing items with “disposable” packaging and using “disposable” goods, you’re reducing the amount of trash you’ll contribute to the landfill, and when you reuse and refill instead of tossing, you’re often saving money at the same time.
- Use air-conditioning wisely. Conserve energy by installing a programmable thermostat which, in the average home, can save about $100 per year on energy bills and prevent about 1,800 lbs of air-polluting CO2 per year. To save more energy, set your thermostat higher (at least 78 degrees) in the summer and use energy-efficient ceiling fans to circulate the air and make it feel cooler. Planting shade trees around the air-conditioning unit can save as much as 10% energy, too.
- Reduce junk mail. Each American receives almost 560 pieces of junk mail per year and wastes about 8 hours per year dealing with it. Producing and delivering junk mail consumes more energy than 2.8 million cars and requires 100 million trees every year. Several organizations exist to help get you off of junk mail lists.
- Use energy-efficient lighting. Because only 10% of the energy used by standard bulbs goes toward creating light (90% is turned into heat), standard bulbs are incredibly wasteful, especially during the summer. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL’s) last 15 times as long and save energy. Replacing a 100-watt bulb with its CFL equivalent saves over $100 in electricity over the lifetime of each bulb. Replacing ten 100-watt bulbs with CFL’s will reduce the same amount of CO2 that an SUV emits over a year.
- Wash clothes in cold water instead of hot. Since 80% to 90% of the energy used to do laundry goes to heating the water, each year, the average household will save around $60 and keep 1,280 lbs of CO2 out of the air by washing in cold. Cold water actually does clean everyday clothes just as well as hot, and since there will be less fading and shrinkage, clothes will last longer.
- Conserve water by managing your lawn and plants consciously. Mowing your grass to the proper height (3 to 3 ½ inches high for most lawns) is the single most important thing you can do to maintain a healthy lawn. Longer grass naturally helps control weeds by shading the soil where they take root, and it encourages roots to go deeper to obtain water during dry periods. When you do mow, leave the clippings on the lawn to help hold in moisture and fertilize your grass throughout the summer. Water your lawn early in the morning and only when seven days have passed with no rain (make sure to comply with your local water restrictions, too!).
- Mow wisely. Today’s lawnmowers emit 93 times more pollution per gallon than an automobile! More reason to mow during the early morning hours and less often. Or consider going electric or manual when your current mower gives out. Electric mowers run cleaner and are easier to maintain. Zero-emission reel-mowers actually offer better maneuverability and are great exercise!
- Use chemicals cautiously. Runoff from lawn chemicals can destroy ecosystems in rivers, lakes, and oceans, and it can harm the animals and plants that live in those habitats. Pull or dig up weeds and fertilize and control pests naturally.
- Prevent erosion. By making wise landscaping choices, you can help prevent erosion of your land. Use native plants to anchor the soil in your yard. Many nurseries will be able to provide you with a list of native plants and trees that will prevent erosion and attract wildlife to your backyard. As an added bonus, native plants require less fertilizer and watering.
- Compost yard waste and kitchen waste and use it to feed your yard. You’ll put less matter in the landfill while nurturing your plants naturally. Composting is easier than you think, and it’s better than bagging off your clippings and hauling them to the curb.
Of course, Zoo Atlanta is all about animal welfare. But even animals can contribute to environmental destruction when taken out of their natural place in the environmental cycle and kept as pets.
- Adopt a pet. For every person born in the US, 15 puppies and 45 kittens are born, and an estimated three to four million homeless dogs and cats are euthanized at shelters each year. Breeders contribute to pet overpopulation by producing a high number of offspring for profit.
- Sterilized pets live longer and help to end the cycle of overpopulation and unwanted pets. Don’t forget the pet bunny—overpopulation has made the rabbit the third most common animal surrendered to shelters.
- Use sustainable cat litter. More than 2 million tons of non-biodegradable kitty litter made from strip-mined clay end up in landfills every year. There are many biodegradable alternatives to clay.
- Scoop, and use bio-bags. Every year in the US, the poop that dogs produce could fill an 800 ft tall football field. Comparably-priced biodegradable bags break down in as few as 30 days.
- Keep cats indoors. Habitat destruction is the only force worse than cats on songbird populations. Generally superior health gives domestic cats an unfair advantage over wild predators, and they can seriously disrupt the food chain by decimating bird populations (so you’ll have more bugs in your yard)! Indoor cats also tend to live longer.
Every gallon of gasoline burned creates about 20 pounds of CO2. Conserve gas and money while reducing emissions by following these tips.
- Inflate your tires properly, which improves gas mileage, extends the life of your tires, and reduces CO2 emissions; not to mention, it’s safer.
- Roll your windows down instead of turning on the AC while driving around town. Once you’re driving over 45 mph, open windows create drag and actually decrease engine efficiency, so crank them up and turn the AC on, or open all four windows so air can escape out the back.
- Use an alternative method of transportation. Even if it’s once a week, biking or walking to work reduces pollution, saves gas, money, and it’s good exercise!
- Use cruise control when you can to keep a consistent speed and save on gas.
- Forgo owning a car, and instead, share one with Zipcar.
Only 10% of the fossil fuel energy used to generate food goes into growing it; 90% goes to ads, packaging, and transport. Do what you can to make sure the majority of your purchase goes toward the product by following these guidelines.
- Plan your shopping. Almost 100 billion pounds of the US food supply goes to waste each year. Before buying groceries, make a list, and don’t shop hungry. You’ll save money when you avoid “binge-shopping.
- Buy locally. Most of our food and drink travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles before we even put it in our carts. Buying locally produced goods means you’ll get fresher food that has required less energy use, and you’ll support small local farms that count on local dollars to survive.
- Reduce packaging, which makes up almost 50% of municipal solid waste. In fact, your grocery money usually pays for less of the actual food than for the packaging. Buying items with less packaging, such as a head of lettuce instead of a bag of pre-washed, pre-torn lettuce, greatly reduces the amount of packaging you throw away. Choosing concentrates and bulk over single-serving items will also reduce waste and usually costs less, too.
- Bring reusable shopping bags. Cloth bags hold more and really cut down on those mounds of plastic bags you never haul to the recycling center. Some stores give a nominal discount for bringing your own bags, too. But if you do choose disposable bags, make sure to reuse or recycle them so they don’t become litter. Most Publix Super Markets accept bags for recycling.
- Avoid bottled water. Americans consume more than 2.5 million bottles of water every hour, and only around 10% are recycled. Plastic water bottles have overburdened the municipal system to the point of crippling it in some cities, but there are problems with it before it even hits the shelves. Plastic water bottles require 1.5 million barrels of oil each year to make, and the water inside them is often only tap water, anyway. They then travel up to 2,500 miles, gobbling up fossil fuel and creating pollution in transport. Consumers then spend up to $2 for a 16-oz bottle of water that would cost closer to $.0015 per gallon from the tap. Invest in a water filter for your tap, and drink from a reusable glass or steel water bottle, which doesn’t leach toxins the way plastic does.
- Consider a green diet. On the whole, producing meat is much more taxing on the environment than growing crops. Over 70% of the grains grown in the US and almost half of the drinking water go to feeding and watering livestock for meat, not to mention a host of other environmental resources used. If you’ve ever considered veganism or vegetarianism, try it for a couple of weeks.
- Make smart seafood choices. Many of the world’s fisheries are depleted. Be an informed consumer and purchase fish only from fisheries that promote a sustainable harvest. Keep a current list of smart seafood choices with you while you shop.
- Buy organic food that has not been subject to fertilizers and pesticides that can be harmful to our bodies and our environment. And when you purchase organic foods, you’re supporting the organic farmers who grow them and the organic movement, itself.
- Promote biodiversity, buy (or grow) heirloom. Although humans have used more than 5,000 different species of plants for food, the majority of the world's population is now fed by less than 20 plant species, driving many plants to extinction. Only a small fraction of the edible fruit and vegetable varieties known to exist in two hundred years ago still exist. Heirloom varieties preserve genetic diversity, are often organic, and they are tasty alternatives to the typical genetically modified vegetables.
- Buy sustainably-produced products to support the farms and industries that take the effort to provide them. Some products, like palm oil, are so ubiquitous, yet so environmentally harmful (demand for palm oil is rapidly driving orangutans to extinction), they’re impossible to avoid. But you can educate yourself to choose the products that contain sustainable alternatives and, in turn, stop contributing to the damage.
- Thaw food in the fridge overnight rather than running it under hot water, which wastes three to five gallons of water per minute.
- Pack lunches and leftovers in reusable containers. Plastic wrap and disposable plastic bags can take as long as 1,000 years to deteriorate. If you must wrap, use aluminum foil, which is recyclable and leaches fewer toxins into your food and the environment.
- Compost food waste to feed your yard and reduce landfill waste.
Many of us don’t want to know about the myriad ways we’re harming the environment through our everyday habits. But ignorance won’t make the problems go away. Helping turn the tide toward a greener planet requires that we change the way we think about our own behaviors. Model green behavior, and you’ll be surprised at how many people follow you. Living green is one of those things that seems much more difficult until you try it.
- Offset your travel emissions with Driving Green.
- Book your lodging in environmentally friendly or “green” establishments. It is amazing how much information you can get on eco-friendly vacation locations on the Internet.
- When you check into a hotel, let housekeeping know you will not need your linens and towels changed daily. Foregoing those fresh sheets and towels can save as much as 30 gallons of water a day. When you leave your hotel room, turn off any lights, television and other electrical appliances. Leave the little unopened bottles of hotel amenities you don’t use, and reduce paperwork and time by electronically checking out.
- Book a working vacation that will benefit the environment in some way, or consider a vacation using non-motorized forms of recreation, like walking tours or biking.
- Purchase electronic tickets for air travel when possible to save paper waste.
- Camping: Leave the campsite and any nature areas more pure than you found them. Take all trash out with you and dispose of it properly. Do not burn or bury garbage of any kind. Protect campsite water sources from any contamination by keeping campfire ash away from them and never washing dishes, clothes or even yourself in them. Use a basin and biodegradable soap, and dump wastewater at least 25 yards from any waterways. Do not take souvenirs like rocks and flowers from natural areas and historical areas, and leave only your footprint.
- Boating: Gas boats up on land when you can and prevent spills by always using a funnel when refueling your boat from a gas can. Upgrade to the most efficient boat motor, if possible. A four-stroke engine is 40 times cleaner and two to four times more fuel-efficient than a two-stroke engine.
- Fishing: Use non-lead sinkers to protect wildlife from lead poisoning. Also remember that fishing line can be recycled.
- If you will be using an RV or some other type of low-mpg vehicle, consider offsetting its gas usage and emissions by renting or driving an ultra-low emissions vehicle for local and everyday driving.
- Take only the brochures and maps you need from the tourist racks.
- Avoid using disposable cameras that are expensive and wasteful; use 36-shot rolls of film or go digital, if possible.
- Protect endangered species by not purchasing souvenirs made of tortoise shell, ivory, and other types of animal skins and feathers.
- Participate in any hotel recycling programs.
- And set an example by picking up at least one piece of litter every day; even if it’s not your town, it is your planet
- Green Gifting
- The greatest gifts are not things. Instead of giving toys or material gifts that will eventually end up in the landfill, try giving friends or loved ones those intangible gifts that mean so much more. Give a favor, bake a cake, or take them out for something they’ll enjoy. Handmade gifts can be meaningful, too. Or think about giving a gift certificate to a special store or restaurant. Even greener, sponsorships and memberships are gifts that keep on giving. There are hundreds of sponsorship opportunities for animals in need, endangered species (see Rare Care), or environmental concerns. And memberships can be extremely rewarding—give the gift of a year at the Zoo or an annual pass at another area attraction. Be creative, and your friends will thank you all year long.